Friday, March 7, 2014

Dr. Frank Jobe, savior of pitchers' careers

Dr. Frank Jobe was honored last year
in Cooperstown for his contributions to the game.
It is almost impossible to imagine baseball today without Dr. Frank Jobe, the orthopedic surgeon who invented what is popularly known as Tommy John surgery.

John was only the first baseball player to have an elbow ligament replaced. Only the first. There have been hundreds since that pioneering surgery. Soon Miguel Sano will join the crowd.

John Smoltz. Francisco Liriano. Joe Nathan. Adam Wainwright. Chris Carpenter. Brian Wilson. Tim Hudson. Billy Wagner. Stephen Strasburg. Kerry Wood. Anibel Sanchez. Jordan Zimmermann. A.J. Burnett. All, and dozens more, have had the surgery.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom Jobe was associated for 50 years, announced Thursday that Jobe died. He was 88.

I doubt there's a team without somebody who's had Tommy John surgery. (The Twins, for example, have Brian Duensing, Sam Deduno and Mike Pelfrey.) Pitchers have been blowing out their elbows for generations; until Jobe came up with the idea of taking a tendon from a different part of the body, attaching it to the bones and essentially training it to act as a ligament, nobody had a solution.

Today Tommy John surgery is almost routine, with a reported 95 percent success rate. Yes, it's a long and grueling rehab process, at least for pitchers. But it's far better than what they had before Jobe got creative.

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